Info on cookies
What are cookies?
Cookies are small pieces of files or information sent to your computer or mobile phone.They are designed to hold a modest amount of data specific to a particular client and website, and can be accessed either by the web server or the client computer. This allows the server to deliver a page tailored to a particular user, or the page itself can contain some script which is aware of the data in the cookie and so is able to carry information from one visit to the website (or related site) to the next.
Are Cookies Enabled in my Browser?
To check whether your browser is configured to allow cookies, visit the Cookie checker. This page will attempt to create a cookie and report on whether or not it succeeded.
For information on how to enable or disable cookies, see ‘Enabling cookies‘.
For information on how to delete and clear cookies, see ‘Deleting cookies‘.
Can I see the cookies I have on my computer?
Most browsers have a configuration screen which allows the user to see what cookies have been stored on the computer, and optionally to delete them. For more information, see the viewing cookies page.
Note that it is not possible for a webpage to view cookies set by other sites, as this would represent a privacy and security problem.
What’s in a Cookie?
Each cookie is effectively a small lookup table containing pairs of (key, data) values – for example (firstname, John) (lastname, Smith). Once the cookie has been read by the code on the server or client computer, the data can be retrieved and used to customise the web page appropriately.
When are Cookies Created?
Writing data to a cookie is usually done when a new webpage is loaded – for example after a ‘submit’ button is pressed the data handling page would be responsible for storing the values in a cookie. If the user has elected to disable cookies then the write operation will fail, and subsequent sites which rely on the cookie will either have to take a default action, or prompt the user to re-enter the information that would have been stored in the cookie.
Why are Cookies Used?
Cookies are a convenient way to carry information from one session on a website to another, or between sessions on related websites, without having to burden a server machine with massive amounts of data storage. Storing the data on the server without using cookies would also be problematic because it would be difficult to retrieve a particular user’s information without requiring a login on each visit to the website.
If there is a large amount of information to store, then a cookie can simply be used as a means to identify a given user so that further related information can be looked up on a server-side database. For example the first time a user visits a site they may choose a username which is stored in the cookie, and then provide data such as password, name, address, preferred font size, page layout, etc. – this information would all be stored on the database using the username as a key. Subsequently when the site is revisited the server will read the cookie to find the username, and then retrieve all the user’s information from the database without it having to be re-entered.
How Long Does a Cookie Last?
The time of expiry of a cookie can be set when the cookie is created. By default the cookie is destroyed when the current browser window is closed, but it can be made to persist for an arbitrary length of time after that.
Who Can Access Cookies?
When a cookie is created it is possible to control its visibility by setting its ‘root domain’. It will then be accessible to any URL belonging to that root. For example the root could be set to “whatarecookies.com” and the cookie would then be available to sites in “www.whatarecookies.com” or “xyz.whatarecookies.com” or “whatarecookies.com”. This might be used to allow related pages to ‘communicate’ with each other. It is not possible to set the root domain to ‘top level’ domains such as ‘.com’ or ‘.co.uk’ since this would allow widespread access to the cookie.
By default cookies are visible to all paths in their domains, but at the time of creation they can be retricted to a given subpath – for example “www.whatarecookies.com/images”.
How Secure are Cookies?
There is a lot of concern about privacy and security on the internet. Cookies do not in themselves present a threat to privacy, since they can only be used to store information that the user has volunteered or that the web server already has. Whilst it is possible that this information could be made available to specific third party websites, this is no worse than storing it in a central database. If you are concerned that the information you provide to a webserver will not be treated as confidential then you should question whether you actually need to provide that information at all.
How are they used?
Cookies enable us and our partner organisations to identify your device when you access our website. The information they contain can then be used to: Personalise the website by storing the preferences a user selects for the site; Store information as part of the function of the website, such as shopping basket contents; Restrict access to registered user’s data and limit access to “paid for” services; Collect aggregated statistical information about the use of the website.
What information do they contain?
There is no personally identifiable information held in our cookies or the cookies used by our partner organisations. Cookies often contain a unique identifier, for example: 413EA8A33A38AC8CCE09CC624E8B4758, and may contain data you have supplied, such as user preferences and shopping basket contents. In some cases they can contain information about what you have done on our website, for example whether you have pressed a particular button or viewed a particular page. There are a few instances where we need to record more detailed information in the cookie, for example the cookie we use to indicate that you are logged into our website. In this case we store your unique identifier and time that you logged in. In such cases the contents of the cookie are encrypted, meaning that only our website can read that information.
How do I control which cookies I accept?
You have the opportunity to set your device’s browser to accept all cookies, to ask you when the websites sends a cookie, or not to receive cookies at any time. Not allowing cookies means that certain features of our website will not work and accordingly you might not be able to take full advantage of all of our services. Each browser is different, so check the “Help” menu of your browser to learn how to change your cookie preferences.
You can also find up-to-date information clearly explaining how to control or delete cookies on your Windows PC or Apple Mac at aboutcookies.org. To control or delete cookies on your mobile phone, please refer to the manufacturer’s documentation.
Other types of cookie
We use Macromedia Flash Player to deliver certain services on our sites. To improve user experience, Local Shared Objects – or Flash Cookies as they are commonly known – are employed to provide features such as auto-resume or saving preferences. Flash Cookies are stored on a user’s terminal much the same as cookies are, but it is not possible to manage them at browser level in the same way.
The Adobe website provides comprehensive information on how to delete or disable Flash cookies, either for a specific domain or for all websites – see Adobe’s website for details. Please be aware that restricting the use of Flash Cookies may affect the features available to you for Flash-based applications on our sites.
Why does your website use 3rd party cookies?